I’ve just arrived back in Santiago after catching a painfully early bus this morning from Muxia, the final destination of my four-day walk. That pilgrimage that I talked about possibly doing a couple of posts ago? Yeah, I actually did it.
And it was honestly one of the best decisions of my year abroad. I had the best time ever. It’s difficult to pin down what exactly made it so good. Obviously, it’s not particularly exciting – after all, the lion’s share of the day is taken up by walking – but the landscapes, the headspace, the escape from the city, and the other pilgrims all combine to make for a very enjoyable experience.
Day 1: Santiago to Vilaserio (34km)
On the first day, I left my flat at 7:00am after having been woken up even earlier than I’d planned by my flatmates ringing the bell after a night out. Meanwhile, the other flatmate, who isn’t really a flatmate at all but a guest of one of the actual flatmates and who has been here for a month, not paid any rent, monopolised the living room, and STILL NOT LEFT (but I’m not bitter…) was having some rather loud sex. Needless to say, this and the doorbell incident made me ever more keen to get away. By 7.30am, I’d started the proper, marked route. The whole thing is marked by yellow arrows and scallop shells:
which, thankfully, make it quite difficult to get lost. Although I still managed to, briefly (more of which later…).
Starting a bit earlier than I’d planned actually turned out to be a blessing: on all four days, the time before about 9.30 in the morning was my favourite for walking. The temperature is perfect, the birds are singing, and the morning sky is just beautiful. There’s also a certain sense of satisfaction about walking 15km by 10.30am. I’d planned (in the loosest sense of the word) the route so that the first day would be the longest; it was 35km to Vilaserio, my first stop, and I got there at about 2.30pm. The village turned out to be a throbbing metropolis composed of the albergue (the type of hostel that’s especially for pilgrims), the attached bar/cafe, two farms, and that was about your lot. However, I soon discovered that I didn’t really need a lot else: after arriving, food-shower-nap-food-sleep was the literal order of the day. The salad that I had in the cafe was so good that I also had it for dinner.
I was in a room of 16 beds but, sadly, none of the other pilgrims on the first evening were that talkative, and I went to bed early in preparation for the next day. However, that first night set the tone for the rest of the week: loud snoring and the constant opening and closing of the door by people going to the toilet meant that not many people got a lot of sleep.
Day 2: Vilaserio to Hospital (24km)
The whole dorm was well and truly woken up by the alarm of someone who had gone to the bathroom and forgotten to turn it off. I was keen for another early start, and so left the albergue at 7.00am. The breakfast in the bar seemed kind of expensive so I decided that I’d just have a snack before leaving and would stop at the next cafe I came to along the camino. This turned out to be a very good idea: it meant that I got 7km of walking under my belt before breakfast, and the next cafe offered two very generously sized tostadas with butter and jam and a large mugful of cafe con leche for €3.
It was shortly after this that I met my first camino friend, Andre from Holland. After walking next to one another in awkward silence for a good five minutes, I plucked up the courage to ask, in Spanish, how long he’d been walking for. Turns out that he doesn’t really speak Spanish, and so we chatted in English and walked together for probably about two hours, although the time seemed to pass so quickly that I can’t be sure. It was during this time that it started to rain for the first and last time over the four days. Out came the raincoat meant for boys aged 12 to 14 (it was cheaper, okay?) and the borrowed rucksack cover. Andre stopped at the next bar we came to; I ploughed on, had a quick snack in a bus stop, and eventually neared my next stop, Hospital. As I was coming into the village, I managed to acquire three more friends; our search for the albergue united us. Greg and Hélène are a Canadian couple from Canada, and Marylisa (at least, I think that’s her name…) is from Holland. We finally managed to find the albergue, where Andre joined us shortly after; despite being the youngest by at least 30 years, I ended up spending the whole of the afternoon and evening with these people. They were hilarious: a particular highlight was Andre’s attempt to lull us all to sleep with a Dutch lullaby.
Day 3: Hospital to Finisterre (27km)
Our albergue in Hospital was the last establishment offering sustenance of any kind for 15km, and so I took full advantage of this by indulging in a hearty breakfast of eggs (luxury!), toast, fruit, and, of course, cafe con leche before leaving. I didn’t realise that this would be the last time I would see my new friends, but I did at least have the foresight to get their email addresses. A big breakfast, combined with a playlist called “Throwback” (we’re thinking JoJo, Busted, Rusted Root…) meant that I absolutely powered the first couple of hours of walking, which I was later very pleased about because it soon got very hot. The 15km of nothingness were a dream, not least because a lot the time was spent going downhill; Cee, however, the next town on from Hospital, was less delightful. In fact, it was horrible and poorly signed into the bargain, and I walked through as quickly as possible without bothering to stop for a breather.
The final stretch of day 3 was to Finisterre (meaning “the end of the world”), a coastal town with a famous lighthouse on a small peninsula. The last couple of kilometres were along a glorious beach, but I was so hot and desperate to get to the albergue that I didn’t stop for a paddle. I fear that, had I done so, I might still have been there now.
The albergue was fab: modern and clean, with a huge kitchen and social area…and, to my delight, a supermarket right across the road! After food and the obligatory nap, I walked to the lighthouse…which was, if I’m honest, slightly disappointing. The views of the ocean were great, but the lighthouse wasn’t as rustic or as impressive as I’d hoped. Never mind, eh?
The most popular time to go to the lighthouse is just before sunset, but tiredness and the fact that the path leading from the town to the lighthouse was bordered by a sheer drop to one side meant that I didn’t really fancy it. Instead, I went back to the albergue, chatted for a while to an English guy called Peter (who I still can’t figure out) and went to bed.
Day 4: Finisterre to Muxia (30km)
My final day got off to a bad start. Having woken up especially early to get as much walking done as possible before the heat of the day hit, I ended up getting lost. The signposting out of Finisterre wasn’t very clear, and I went hopelessly round in a circle before the help of a kind man named Carlos put me back on track. By 8.30 I was frustrated with myself and had wet feet from going through a field, but at least I was on my way.
The unclear signposting continued for the whole of the day, and this is because it’s possible to walk in either direction between Muxia and Finisterre and so the arrows and shells point both ways. I went off track again about 7km and was on my way back to Finisterre before coming across some other pilgrims and asking them which direction they were coming from. The fourth day was also the hilliest and the hottest – not a great combination – and so I was very pleased to reach a signpost saying that it was 2km to Muxia. The last stretch was, again, coastal, and a very welcome breeze came off the water.
The final albergue was probably the best of the four. It was recommended by the owners of the albergue in Finisterre, and so Peter and I had booked rooms in advance. We ended up spending the afternoon together and, although I’d got a bad first impression of him in Hospital (“You’re at Oxford? You must have rich parents then!”) he turned out to be a really nice, insightful guy. Muxia’s famous church, Nosa Señora da Barca, was only five minutes away, and so we went to see it together.
I definitely preferred Muxia to Finisterre: it has all the beauty but is a lot more untouched and less touristy.
Then, this morning, the adventure was officially brought to a close when I got on a 6.45am bus back to Santiago. It is difficult to adequately express how pleased I am that I decided to do the camino. It’s given me insight into myself and into other people, and I actually think that I could seriously get into walking. Several people asked whether I’d be tempted to do another of the routes, maybe starting in France or Portugal, and the truth is that I really would be. Something for the future, perhaps.
I’m leaving Santiago on Monday; all that’s left to do is pack my suitcase and say goodbye to my friends here. The situation in the flat is less than ideal, even though it seemed to have such promise to begin with, so I’m keen to get away from that. However, it’s a shame because my social life has really taken off in the past couple of weeks: I’ve been out a few times and have made some lovely friends.
I’m spending three days in Madrid before going back to the UK, and at some point I hope to do a final year abroad-based post to tie up all the loose ends. Today and tomorrow, however, I intend to get some well-deserved sleep. After all, it’s only a matter of time before walking 120k starts to take its toll on the old legs.